The mass media are funny in the way they deal with new technology. First it’s all “Wow, that’s Cool!”, then it’s “Ooh, that’s scary”, and finally it’s “BURN THE WITCH!”. Then a year or so later it’s part of normal life and they treat it as such. We’ve seen the same pattern repeated time and time again over the years.
Seasoned readers may remember silly stories in the papers claiming that the Soviets could somehow use the technology in Western 8-bit home computers for nefarious purposes, since then a myriad breathless exclusives have predicted a youth meltdown which never materialised as the inevitable result of computer gaming, and more recently groundless panics have erupted over 3D printing of gun parts. There might be a British flavour to the examples in this piece because that’s where it is being written, but it’s a universal phenomenon wherever in the world technologically clueless journalists are required to fill column inches on technical stories.
The latest piece of technology to feel the heat in this way is the multirotor. Popularly referred to as the drone, you will probably be most familiar with them as model-sized aircraft usually with four rotors. We have been fed a continuous stream of stories involving tales of near-misses between commercial aircraft and drones, and there is a subtext in the air that Something Must Be Done.
Are multirotors unfairly being given bad press? It certainly seems that way as the common thread among all the stories is a complete and utter lack of proof. But before we rush to their defence it’s worth taking a look at the recent stories and examining their credibility. After all if there really are a set of irresponsible owners flying into commercial aircraft then they should rightly be bought to book and it would do us no favours to defend them. So let’s examine each of those incident reports from that BBC story.
We’re not sure what FESTO is advertising with their odd flying beach ball. Amongst inspirational music it gently places its translucent appendage over a water bottle and then engulfs it with an unsettling plastic sound. With a high pitched whine it hovers away with its prey and deposits it in the hand of a thirsty business man, perhaps as a misguided nurturing instinct.
Despite discovering a new uncanny valley, the robot is pretty cool. It appears to a be a hybrid airship/helicopter on a small-scale. The balloon either zeros out the weight of the robot or provides slightly more lift. It’s up to the propellers to provide the rest.
We like the carbon fiber truss around the drone. It’s a really slick build with barely an untamed wire. This seems like a much safer design than a quadcopter for indoor flying. If its end effector wasn’t so creepy it would be even cooler. Video after the break.
Previously man was limited in his ability to fish the waters of this world by the power of his arm or his ability to procure the services of a boat. Now, as long as man is willing to risk a thousand dollar drone set-up, he can descend upon unsuspecting fish with robotic precision. It is very unfair, and awesome.
The concept is simple. Buy one of those drones every upper middle class teenager seems to get for Christmas. Attach a streaming camera set-up to it. Next, rig it up so that it can fly the fishing line from the rod out, but when the fish bites the line can easily detach. Finally, attach a friend to the controls of the fishing rod.
After that it’s like shooting fish in an ocean. Fly the drone around, pulling the line behind you, until you see a school of fish. Next, dangle the bait in the center of the school. Inevitably one will strike, the line will detach, and it’s up to your friend to reel in your catch. Either that or a bunch of tuna will wreck your drone and you’ll get to watch a livestream of a thousand dollars sink to the ocean floor. Video after the break.
[luca] has always wanted a flying robot, but despite the recent popularity of quadcopters and drones [luca] has never seen a drone that is truly autonomous. Although sometimes billed as autonomous, quadcopters and fixed wing aircraft have always had someone holding a remote, had to stay in a controlled environment, or had some off-board vision system.
Since [luca] is building a coaxial copter – something that looks like a ducted fan with a few vanes at the bottom – there will be control issues. Normal helicopters use the pitch of the blades and the torque produced by the tail rotor to keep flying straight. A quadcopter uses two pairs of motors spinning in opposite directions to stay level. With just two rotors mounted on top of each other, you would think [luca]’s coaxial copter is an intractable problem. Not so; there are bizarre control systems for this type of flying machine that make it as nimble in the sky as any other helicopter.
The design of this flying robot is a bit unlike anything on the market. It looks like a flying ducted fan, with a few electronics strapped to the bottom. It’s big, but also has the minimum number of rotors, to have the highest power density possible with current technology. With a few calculations, [luca] predicted this robot will be able to hoist an IMU, GPS, ultrasonic range finder, optical flow camera, and a LIDAR module in the air for about fifty minutes. That’s a remarkably long flight time for something that hovers, and we can’t wait to see how [luca]’s build turns out.
Researchers at Nanyang Technical University and the University of California at Berkley wanted to answer the question: how do you make a small drone that can fly all day? The problem is that a drone needs a battery or other energy source, but a big battery needs a big drone.
Their answer? Take a giant beetle and strap enough electronics onboard to deliver tiny shocks to direct the insect’s flight. The tiny shocks don’t take much power and once the beetle is on course, no further shock is necessary unless the human pilot needs to correct the direction. Recent work allows a similar controller to control each leg of the beetle, turning it into a more versatile flying or walking cyborg.
Every year, Congress passes bills directing the funding for various departments and agencies. Sometimes, this goes swimmingly: congress recently told NASA to attempt a landing on Europa, Jupiter’s ice-covered moon. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as well. The draft of the FAA Reauthorization act of 2016 (PDF) includes provisions for drones and model airplanes amid fears of privacy-encroaching quadcopters.
As would be expected, the 2016 FAA Reauthorization act includes a number of provisions for unmanned aerial systems, a class of aircraft that ranges from a Phantom quadcopter to a Predator drone. The draft of the act includes provisions for manufacturers to prevent tampering of modification of their product, and provide the FAA with a statement of compliance, and prohibit these devices from being sold unless these conditions are met.
For a very long time, the Congress and the FAA have had special rules for model aircraft. Since 2012, the special rules for model aircraft have been simple enough: model aircraft are flown for hobby or recreational use, must operate in accordance with community-set safety guidelines, weigh less than 55 pounds, give way to manned aircraft, and not be flown within five miles of an airport. The 2016 FAA Reauthorization bill adds several updates. No model aircraft may be flown higher than 400 feet above ground level, and the operator of a model aircraft must pass a knowledge and safety test administered by the FAA. Under this draft of the FAA Reauthorization bill, you will have to pass a test to fly a quadcopter or model plane.
Ski areas are setting formal policies for drones left and right, but what happens when your drone isn’t a drone but is instead a tethered iPhone with wings swinging around you like a ball-and-chain flail as you careen down a mountain? [nicvuignier] decided to explore the possibility of capturing bullet-time video of his ski runs by essentially swinging his phone around him on a tether. The phone is attached to a winged carrier of his own design, 3D printed in PLA.
One would think this would likely result in all kinds of disaster, but we haven’t seen the outtakes yet, and the making-of video has an interesting perspective on each of the challenges he encountered in perfecting the carrier, ranging from keeping it stable and upright, to reducing the motion sickness with the spinning perspective, and keeping it durable enough to withstand the harsh environment and protect the phone.
He has open sourced the design, which works for either iPhone or GoPro models, or it is available for preorder if you are worried about catastrophic delamination of your 3D printed model resulting in much more bullet-like projectile motion.